Giving The Benefit of The Doubt

Excerpted from the book, “The Other Side of the Story,” stories and strategies for giving others the benefit of the doubt by Mrs. Yehudis Samet

There is a special mitzvah in the Torah called “Judging others favorably.” This means if I see someone causing me an affront, I have an obligation first to stop, think, and consider if perhaps I am missing one crucial factor.

It’s like the woman who was upset at not being invited to her friend’s wedding, and held a grudge for 20 years… until the invitation finally arrived in the mail accompanied by an apology from the Post Office.

Sometimes we feel we lack either the tools or patience to judge others favorably. As a matter of fact, more often than not we feel there could not possibly be any excuse or justification for certain behavior.

We can challenge these thoughts and prove how talented and ingenious we can be in inventing excuses for others - by seeing how well we do it for ourselves… as the following story portrays:

When people betray our high expectations of them, we need to search for explanations which exonerate their behavior. It’s a mitzvah, and besides, we’ll feel better about others and about ourselves. Want to avoid a lot of needless aggravation? Always remember…


When Something’s a Miss,
Something’s a Foot

Gloom pervaded Chaim’s lonely car. He had cut his date short, dropped the young lady off at her house and headed home. He’d heard such wonderful things about the young lady, too. “Such wonderful character traits, such personality, so refined,” the matchmaker had said. Chaim had been looking forward to a wonderful evening. Instead, his evening was filled with annoyance and resentment provoked by a very unpleasant smell, an odor that entered the car when she did, which followed them to the cafe, and which lingered in the air even after he dropped her off. What kind of person was this who didn’t know enough to shower before a date? What kind of parents did she have? Chaim was angry at everyone, especially at the matchmaker for suggesting he meet such a person. As Chaim walked into his house, he heard his sister call out: “Chaim, the rug! Look what you’re tracking in onto the rug!” Chaim looked down. In horror he discovered a piece of refuse stuck to his shoe. He must have acquired it when he first walked his date from her house to his car!

The best way to be convinced of the importance of judging favorably is to be the one suspected. Being in a position where onlookers assume we are doing one thing, while we know we are doing something quite different, teaches us how easy it is to draw wrong conclusions. We learn, hands on, what it means to be…


In The Un-Easy Chair

As co-chairperson of our annual sisterhood luncheon, I worked with a committee of dedicated women who worked far beyond the call of duty. I felt they deserved public recognition, and therefore I cited each one of them when writing my speech for the luncheon.

The big day arrived, and we worked until the last minute to ensure that everything would run smoothly. But a problem with the sound system took almost an hour to fix, throwing us off schedule. To make matters worse, the first speaker spoke 15 minutes over time. I was next. As I gathered my notes, the president approached me saying that the keynote speaker needed to catch a plane. Since we were behind schedule, I could speak for 5 minutes and not more. I became nervous and flustered. Everything I had prepared was important. What could I delete at the last minute? With no time to think, I simply began at the beginning. After 5 minutes I got a wave from the president to finish. I sat down.

At the end of the evening my co-chairperson walked over to me. “I’m surprised at you,” she said. “You of all people should know how important it is to thank those who helped. You saw more than anyone how they came through day and night, whenever needed, and at a moment’s notice. They turned this evening into a success.” When she finally gave me a chance, I explained what had happened. But what I really wanted to say - but didn’t - was: “While we’re on the topic of ‘should have known,’ you should have known that I do know the importance of appreciation. I know these people should have been thanked. How could you think I would be so neglectful and unappreciative not to give credit where due? Why didn’t you credit me with that understanding?”

When we are misjudged, that’s when we begin to really appreciate the value of judging others favorably.

Do you have a story to share?

Were you in a situation where there was the potential to misjudge a person, but there really was a valid explanation? Has a friend or a relative ever told you how they were in such a situation?

Share you stories with us for inclusion in future columns of The Other Side of the Story.

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Posted in: Personal Growth